Business & Finance

Qwest Communications International and the union representing 25,000 of its employees agreed to terms on a new contract late Tuesday, averting a strike that could have affected 14 states. The pact, which still must be ratified by the rank and file of the Communications Workers of America, calls for a 7.5 percent pay increase over three years, a cap on mandatory overtime, and a restructured healthcare benefit plan.

Gazprom, the world's No. 1 producer of natural gas, was reported close to wrapping up the financing for a $10 billion takeover of another Russian energy giant, Sibneft - a move that analysts said will bring the Kremlin closer to retaking control of the national energy sector. The state already owns a majority stake in Gazprom, although a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin denied that the government is involved in what he called "the process," reported. Two years ago, Sibneft was about to be taken over by Yukos, the largest oil exporter in Russia at the time. But at that point, the government began its headline-making prosecution of Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky on tax-evasion and fraud charges. Since then, Khodorkovsky has been sentenced to nine years in prison, Yukos's choicest assets have been sold off, and oil production in Russia has slowed significantly.

International Paper Co. agreed in principle to sell its 50.5 percent stake in New Zealand forest products giant Carter Holt Harvey Ltd. to an investment company controlled by business tycoon Graeme Hart. The deal with Hart's Rank Group Investments, is the first step in a process that could give him the inside track for a takeover of Carter Holt Harvey. Under New Zealand law, anyone bidding for more than 20 percent ownership of a company must extend a buyout offer to all other shareholders as well. Hart has valued Carter Holt Harvey at $2.3 billion. Analysts predicted that won't be high enough to acquire all of the company's stock but may thwart takeover efforts by any rival bidders.

In an unrelated development, International Paper said it is taking advantage of a $15 million tax break offered by the Industrial Development Board of Memphis and Shelby County, Tenn., to move its headquarters there. International Paper already maintains its operational base in Memphis, but its corporate offices are in Stamford, Conn. Last week, results of a new survey ranked Connecticut as the fifth most expensive state in which to do business.

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